Sunday, August 16, 2009


When I attended to Banff workshop for Jazz and Creative music in 2008 I had an amazing time. It was an extraordinarily energizing experience. The thing that really hit home with me was that there were all these people: 'teachers' and 'students' who were following their muse with conviction and devotion, and the whole community at the workshops seemed to support that. Surely that's what being a creative artist is about right?
I did have one strange experience however, which has already created more than a little dialogue in the jazz blog-o-sphere. I was in a room with 9 other pianists of various persuasions, and was berated when I (we) couldn't remember the name of James P. Johnson's 'Carolina Shout'. The interesting thing about that was: I have listened to that piece many times, but for some reason answered that it was a Jelly Roll Morton piece instead.
Once our host had calmed down a little he made it clear he thought that that was blasphemy: that a bunch of students of improvised piano music (notice I don't say jazz) didn't know the piece immediately.
After the camp in an interview with Wynton Marsalis, they bemoaned together the lack of students's knowledge about the history of jazz. Citing (I paraphrase here): "one of the pianists was playing all these variations on 'Donna Lee', another was improvising in tone-rows.....but not one of them know this piece!" . Interestingly a few months later the author removed his initial post alerting the rest of the jazz world to this troubling fact.
More recently, a writer at interviewed a prominent Australian musician, and when receiving a list of musicians the Australian thought were creating interesting things in the NY scene, replied:
"The other aspect to your comments about the New York jazz scene deal with race. It is interesting that you did not name any African-Americans who are doing compelling work amongst the cats you mentioned. Is this also reflective of the general lack of innovation in the music?"
I find both this and the previously described reaction quite bemusing. In both cases it seems an American has taken it upon themselves to point out (or at least imply) the shortcomings of an outsiders musical vision. Every serious student of jazz knows it is an American-created artform, and spends time becoming informed of the tradition. However at some point you stop becoming a jazz musician and you start becoming an artist. Artistry is not bound by the shoulds and should-nots of tradition, indeed it often thrives on the exact opposite to those things.
Personally I am not here to help a tradition survive, I am not an historian. I am here to realise my own vision, if my vision encapsulates things you are not comfortable with, well, the proof is in the pudding. If I want to explore improvising using tone-rows (a base description of what I'm interested in to say the least) then no-one has a right to try an adopt a quasi-conservative-moral-higher-ground and tell me I'm not obeying the rules.
I'm interested in alot of music, including the ones you are trying to push, it's just that I'll get there when I'm ready, not when you say I should.

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